(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)
Last Season: 53-22-7, 113 points, first in the Metro Division.
2014-15 Season, In One Tweet
Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?
Worse. Marty St. Louis didn’t have much left in the tank in the second half of the season, but still had 52 points in the regular season in 74 games. Carl Hagelin, a cap casualty, was a speedy winger who hit 17 goals in each of the last two seasons; Emerson Etem, for whom he was traded, has 15 in this career (112 games). Viktor Stalberg, who arrives from Nashville, has 10 in his last 92 games.
Plus, if Henrik Lundqvist gets injured again, it’s the Antti Raanta and Magnus Hellberg show, as Cam Talbot moved on to the Oilers.
Five Most Fascinating Players
1. Derek Stepan, C
Step got his money: Six years, $39 million, including $9 million in each of the first two seasons. But big money deals can do funny things with expectations and how players meet them; in his sixth season, Stepan needs to prove last season’s point production (0.81 in 68 games) was more than a contract year bump and part of a surge towards being a 60-point center at a minimum.
2. Keith Yandle, D
Yandle’s in the last year of a 5-year, $26.25 million contract, and the Rangers traded top prospect Anthony Duclair for him. It took him some time to figure out the Alain Vigneault system, only feeling comfortable at the end of the regular season. He’s a power-play ace that’s only scratched the surface of his offensive potential with the Blueshirts, and one imagines he’s poised to post big numbers before he signs in Boston, UHHHHH, we mean in a contract year. Plus the more he plays, the less they’ll see of Dan Boyle in what should be his last season.
3. Kevin Hayes, RW
Hayes, coming off a 45-point rookie campaign, should get an ample chance to win the second-line wing slot vacated by St. Louis along side Stepan and Chris Krieder. (Although J.T. Miller will get his crack at it as well.) That’s if the Rangers decide their lineup works better with Hayes out of the middle.
4. Rick Nash, LW
After his playoff flop in 2014, Nash roared back with his highest goal total in the NHL (42) and a team-leading 69 points. Is there any way Nash posts another 13.8 shooting percentage on over 300 shots? A healthy Mats Zuccarello on his line will help.
5. Jarret Stoll, C
It’s not every offseason that a team signs a two-time recent Stanley Cup champion who plead guilty this summer to two reduced misdemeanor charges to in a felony cocaine case. Said GM Jeff Gorton: "[Stoll is] a real character guy who made a mistake. It's a belief in our organization that it's important to have people that have won and been through it. So we view this as he's someone that can possibly help us get over that hump that we haven't been able to do."
Potentially The Best Thing About This Team
Henrik Lundqvist, 33, is still a top three goaltender in the NHL and showed that again in a stellar postseason (.928 save percentage and 2.11 GAA) behind one of the best bluelines in the league.
But the real question is durability: Was last season’s bout with injury an anomaly, or is Lundqvist’s incredible workrate (620 games in 10 years) finally catching up with him?
We’ll go with anomaly, and expect the King to reign again.
Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team
That the new pieces don’t fit in the bottom six. Where is Etem going to play? Where can they slot Stalberg? Is having Dominic Moore and Stoll redundant? Where does Jespar Fast slot in, and where will Oscar Lindberg play? And what of Rangers fans’ favorite whipping boy, Tanner Glass?
Dream 3-on-3 OT Group
Derrick Brassard (60 points) and Nash, whose first-line chemistry is palpable. As for defense … Yandle would seem the obvious choice but we’re curious to see what Ryan McDonagh would do in a two-way role back there.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
Two. Barring some catastrophe that results in the Rangers missing the playoffs, this is Alain Vigneault’s team for years to come. His system fits the personnel and it can handle some bumps, as was proven during Lundqvist’s injury last season. Plus he’s charismatic and an impeccable dresser.
Awkward Old School Video Break
The Rangers’ 1986 “That’s What Friends Are For” music video from MSG Network. It’s like the end of every senior prom you’ve ever had.
Their Best Case Scenario Is …
Another trip to the finals, either conference or Stanley Cup, for Alain Vigneault, thanks to Lundqvist and an offense whose pieces fit better than they may appear to on paper.
Their Nightmare Scenario Is …
Lundqvist goes down and the Rangers fail to hold the fort the way they did in front of Talbot. Nash regresses by over 10 goals. The second line can’t find a replacement for St. Louis. The Islanders become the toast of NYC in their first season in Brooklyn.
Third in the Metro Division, behind the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins. A little step back for Nash, a little learning curve for the lineup but still one of the true Cup contenders in the East when they get back to the playoffs again.